Mental Illness Masks Personality

Does anybody else struggling with mental illness feel like they don’t know themselves? Like they know the minds of other people more intimately than their own? With obsessive-compulsive traits, past trauma, severe depression, and anxiety, I am finding it nearly impossible to know myself, although I’ve reached my late 30’s. I attempt to reach way back in time to childhood in order to grasp the essence of myself, before I was changed by my world, by the version of the world that was shown to me, the only world I knew, before it had time to make its mark. Then I realize even as a young child my mental health issues had already started to present, as the daughter of one parent diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder with histrionic traits and another codependent, weak parent and severe depression, as well. I consider the possibility I have never been me, but instead always a character crafted by my circumstances, experiences, and genetics. Does that take away my humanity? Aren’t animals simply results of their instincts and past owners? Am I really shy and introverted? Or is that the anxiety and depression masking a confident, extraverted personality? Am I pensive and contemplative, nerdy and “book smart”, or is that the obsession with my thoughts? Would I be more flaky and carefree? Am I a “born leader” or is that me desperately attempting to control my own life as well as those around me? Am I a committed advocate for social change, a good progressive, or simply addiction to the negativity I have come to know and expect, similar to my current addiction to food which has caused me to blow up to over 300 pounds?

Anyway, just some thoughts.

What it Means to Be an Adult

I’ve been thinking lately about what exactly it means to be an adult anymore. I don’t mean physically, either. It wasn’t that long ago that soon after reaching legal adulthood, people would marry, move out of their parents’ house, get their own place, and start having babies. However, for someone like me who has gone back to school in her 30’s, doesn’t want marriage or kids, and is currently living with her mother, what does it mean to be an adult and how should that look in my life?

I’m hardly alone. More people now than ever are going back to school later in life, choosing against marriage and kids (or doing those things later), and moving back in with family. I think it can be chalked up to more jobs requiring education past high school, inflation, stagnant wages, globalization, women enjoying more rights, and people having more freedom to travel and gain experiences before settling down.

Beyond this question, though, I ask myself why I feel I need to know these markers of adulthood. Am I uncomfortable there’s no measuring stick? Am I insecure in my lack of knowledge as to whether I meet some arbitrary (and currently unknown to me) societal standard? Am I judging myself? Is anybody else feeling this specific type of floatiness and drift and trying to feel the metaphorical bottom with their feet right now?

The Internet is Radicalizing Us

As a kid of the 90’s, I often heard the adults around me (especially relatives) discussing politics and often not agreeing with each other on every single point. They were still able to respect each other and be together without hard feelings. Thanksgiving was tense. Attitude polarization, where group members’ attitudes tend to become more radical after speaking with likeminded people about the issue, and group polarization, where groups tend to become more radical in response to the specific inclinations of their members, are two related effects that can often be seen today. The ultimate goal, whether conscious or not, is groupthink, where the group thinks as a whole in order not to allow for any critical or skeptical voices. Logic and facts are often discarded if they do not line up with the group’s belief systems. Belief in conspiracy theories are common.

One example are incels. Men have always chased women and seen it as a boon or bruise to their ego depending upon women’s responses to them. There is nothing new about this, and a much lighter attitude used to be taken about the matter, with many romcoms being made about the subject. However, the incel movement, begun and strengthened online, is something much more sinister. Men who feel they have not gotten the attention from women they deserve claim they are “involuntarily celibate” and as a result, resentment towards women has grown. Where in the past, a man might have sought to improve himself in order to appeal to the opposite sex, the narrative has been changed to one that bashes and dehumanizes women. There have even been violent attacks carried out by those who proudly wear the “incel” title.

Another example are my parents, lifelong conservative Republicans. They have never been anti-vax. I got all of my vaccines growing up. And vaccines were not considered controversial (other than by a very few on the fringes), or even as political in nature. Vaccines save lives. We got vaccinated. No more thought than that was put into the issue. However, with the rise of Trump and anti-science rhetoric in general, my parents (my dad being a physician) have both decried the Covid shot. My mom, who already is in ill health, has decided to forgo getting it at all. She spends a lot of time on Facebook and follows many conservative pages and has many conservative “friends” posting anti-vax propaganda for her to read. In a different, earlier life she would have rejected all of it and chalked them up to being crazies. In this new world, where even adults are now subject to peer pressure via the internet and where anything in typed form is inherently imbued with legitimacy, the lines are much blurrier. Facts have been reduced to opinions, which can be rejected by will, and opinions have risen to the position facts used to hold.

Although I realize the two-party system is not ideal, I remember a time when there were only small differences between Democrats and Republicans. Unfortunately, those days are long past. Now each seems to have more radicalized fringes, and those fringes seem to be much more heavily populated. Bipartisanship is never the goal anymore, with those who even mention it being seen as soft and vacillatory.

Even I have been the victim (participant?) of radicalization. I find it harder and more uncomfortable than ever to teeter between two extremes or even to recognize extremes. I have to constantly question myself. Does this make sense? Is it backed by facts and logic, or simply emotion? Do I really believe this, or do I just want to feel completely aligned with those who do? If I stop believing this or start believing something different, am I scared I will lose something or somebody?

Your Life Purpose Might Not Be a Paying One

Something I try to remember is that my life purpose/calling might not be a paying venture. And when I say life purpose, I don’t mean the societally-created purpose you’re supposed to find for yourself, the hidden reason you’re on the earth (that coincidentally is always financially profitable), the one you’re supposed to spend your teenage years/ young adulthood searching for if you ever want fulfillment or satisfaction (or a consistent roof over your head). No, I’m talking the purpose you create for yourself based on your intimate self-knowledge, self-love, and self-understanding. I’m learning what excites, motivates, and stirs me might not pay me. What I’m the best at, where my strengths and abilities lie, might not be considered marketable, and therefore won’t pay me. I’m learning the millennia-old spark that magnifies purpose and belonging in each person’s heart is completely separate from the few-hundred-years’ old concept of capitalism. So if what I do for pay doesn’t necessarily speak to who I am, it’s all right. It’s not meant to speak to who I am or reflect who I am. Its purpose is much more humble.

On the Concept of Virginity

I realized recently that I can’t remember when I lost my virginity. I would have thought that realization would have a much bigger effect on me and feel like a real loss. However, it doesn’t bother me at all that I don’t remember exactly when I lost it (although I do remember with whom). It got me thinking about the significance we place on the loss of a girl’s/woman’s virginity. I was in my friend’s wedding a few years ago, and her sister made her maid-of-honor speech all about how lucky the husband-to-be was because he would be marrying a virgin and how wonderful her sister was for waiting. I felt incredibly uncomfortable about my friend’s lack of a “body count” being discussed for several minutes in front of all her family and friends. However, she was very religious, so I’m sure was viewing it from a different perspective, and she seemed to love the speech, which was really all that mattered in that moment.

Why do we say someone loses their virginity instead of gaining something? To me, this makes it sound as though it’s a rite of passage, chore, or duty a woman must go through, not something she enthusiastically chooses. Is it painted in a negative light to deter women from partaking, to shame them once they decide to “give in?” Granted, men are also said to “lose their virginity,” but the act is not perceived in the same serious, negative light nor loaded with the same often damning connotations. For these reasons, I try to remember to say “started having sex” instead of “lost my virginity,” which is more empowering — a decision I made instead of something that happened to me.

Virginity is not a physical or medical concept. There’s no medical test for virginity, although these are given to women, even young girls, in certain countries. One of these countries is the U.S., where it is legal for a physician to do an exam on a woman or even a girl for the primary purpose of checking her hymen. When you break it down, it is legalized sexual assault and quackery, considering those underage cannot give consent and the exam tells nothing of whether she is a virgin or not. These exams attempt to determine whether the hymen, the skin that often covers the vaginal opening, is still intact. However, the hymen can break in other ways, such as tampon usage, horseback riding, bicycling, or gymnastics. Boys’ sexual history is not nearly as discussed or worried over. Neither is it used as a basis of valuing a boy. Women’s sexuality is always being politicized.

Virginity is a religious concept designed to control women and their sexuality. In Abrahamic religions, a daughter is her father’s property until he finds an interested mate of whom he approves for marriage to his daughter. Traditionally, the woman has had little to no say concerning who she marries. Purity balls are father/daughter dances held by some Christians in which a girl (who in some cases hasn’t even hit her teens) makes a promise to her father she will not lose her virginity until marriage. Similar mother/son purity balls or any other formal ceremony in which boys pledge their chastity to their mothers, to my knowledge, do not exist.

Sigmund Freud’s Madonna-Whore Complex, posits that men see women as either pure and virginal or slutty. This can be seen in the way a teenage girl who has had sex is often seen as “fast” or “loose”, while a woman who has entered her 20’s (and certainly her 30’s) without having sex is often considered frigid or a “bitch,” someone who is holding out on giving men the pleasure they deserve. This dichotomy has created generations of women who experience anxiety about losing their virginity, about seeming to come on too strongly, not coming on strongly enough, or passing their “expiration date” by losing it “too late.” By having sex with too many men and coming off “trashy” or by having sex with too few and coming off “weird”, “stuck-up”, “inexperienced”, or “difficult.” It seems, regardless of the timeline a woman feels is right for her regarding when to start having sex, and regardless of her best intentions, she cannot win and is destined to be marked inadequate and perhaps even conniving. I experienced this at 24 when I decided to have intercourse for the first time ever, in the first serious romantic relationship of my life. During that year-long relationship, I was accused of all of the following by my partner: being “frigid”, being (conversely) “a nymphomaniac”, and (by contrast, yet again) of not initiating sex as much as I should.

The concept of virginity seems to be loosely defined, putting a woman’s sexual status up for personal interpretation. Some consider a woman to have lost her virginity only after her vagina has been penetrated by a penis (an overtly heteronormative stance). Some consider any sexual activity, such as giving or receiving oral or being fingered, or the use of a dildo, as a loss of her virginity. Additionally, there are girls and women who have sexual activity forced on them against their wills. Some would still consider them to be virgins until they choose to have sex, some wouldn’t. For many young girls or women who have been forced to lose their virginity and taught it is a gift from God that can never be gotten back once lost, the trauma they face after their assaults is often much worse.

I would challenge anyone reading this to question the way in which we talk to girls about virginity and sex. Although losing your virginity to someone with whom you are in a committed relationship (if not marriage) is often considered the “gold standard,” this is often impossible for girls to reach. The average age of first sexual experiences in the U.S. is 17. Only a small portion of people stay for life with the same person to whom they lost their virginity. This is too high a burden to bear, and girls should not be taught that their virginity status in any way determines their worth as a human being. Boys are not seen as dirtied by sex, and by framing the act as dirtying women, we treat women as a commodity that can be bought and sold, and that loses value as she becomes “used.” It is up to each one of us to change the dialogue and thinking behind these concepts. One way I challenge the concept that a woman’s worth and character should be judged based on whether or not she has had sex (and if yes, how many partners she’s had) is by refusing to answer the question from a dating partner or potential dating partner: “How many partners have you had?” There is no upside to answering this, and the downsides are multitudinous. If your answer is more than they want to hear, you’re a whore. If it’s fewer, you’re a prude or stuck-up. In either case, you have legitimized the question and its underlying misogyny just by answering it.

What do you think? Have you considered this topic? As always, I’d love to hear any thoughts you have on the matter!

Ego Depletion

Ego depletion occurs when stress causes a lack of self-restraint. For example, when I am working a stressful job, it is harder for me to choose healthful food over food I like better, but that might not be good for me. I might have had customers yelling at me all day, coworkers or bosses mistreating or belittling me, or a workload that didn’t allow me to take adequate breaks to recharge. The allure of something comforting after a day like that is a lot stronger in this context than the allure of giving my body what it needs, such as healthful food. Hence, the stressors in your life can have a very real and very negative effect on other seemingly-unrelated parts of your life. You might be more prone to yell at your partner or kids. Instant gratification becomes an urge too strong to fight due to ego depletion. One way I have found helpful in combatting this is to prepare. For instance, knowing how you are likely to feel after a hard day, you might have a healthy dinner already prepared for yourself so that you’re less likely to eat junk food.

In what ways have you experienced ego depletion in your life, and how do you combat it?

On Feeling Responsible for Other People’s Emotions

A painful lesson I’m trying to learn is that I’m not responsible for other people’s emotions. I’m trying not only to learn and understand, but also to believe, that as long as I do right by people — by not violating their rights or acting unnecessarily cruel — that I am fulfilling my end of the social contract with my fellow human beings. It is just really hard when faced with close relatives who harbor unreasonable expectations about what a relationship with me should look like. I have always felt a need to be a solution-finder and peacekeeper, and the mental and emotional toll of needing to keep people happy and trying to stabilize their extreme reactions can be overwhelming and guilt-inducing. Anybody else going through the same thing?

Hey, it’s been a while…

I’ve been busy with work and school and dealing with a close family member being seriously sick. Been meaning to make another blog post for a while now. I’m not myself when I’m not writing out my feelings.

A couple thoughts I’ve had recently:

I’ve realized I’m always either hypersensitive or numb. Either blowing something out of proportion and creating a mess or ignoring something important, tamping it down so I don’t have to deal with it in a mature and reasoned way. I know this isn’t the way to handle things that will make for a satisfying and peaceful life.

Also, I’ve realized even change that feels good can be daunting because you know the depression you’ll experience when you realize how long you’ve been miserable and how long you could have been happy. That you’ll hate yourself for not having made the change sooner.

Can anyone relate? Let me know your own thoughts.

Anger

I’ve written about anger before, but feel the urge to do so again. It’s amazing the immediate release I feel when I make my anger trigger deeper introspection instead of just more blind rage. It feels like such a triumph to pinpoint the emotion my anger is concealing and calmly confront myself with the knowledge that there’s more going on than me just being angry. And, weirdly, considering those deeper emotions and their origins usually makes me feel calmer. It’s as though my inner self is telling me I need to do the hard work of learning to become self-aware before I can ever find peace or contentment.

I notice I often excuse my anger as righteous. If I am angry about an injustice, I feel justified in allowing myself the anger. However, anger itself is not helpful. Logical thinking, planning, and knowledge are more helpful to foster positive change than pure anger. Anger is disempowering, chaotic, and counterproductive, while self-awareness is empowering, peace-inducing, and change-making.

The Number of Friends You Have Doesn’t Define You

I’ve been thinking about how often we use someone’s popularity to ascribe to them the level of worth we believe they deserve. As I have gotten older I find it harder to make and maintain friendships. I prioritize similar values much more highly than other traits and characteristics, such as similar hobbies, appearance, or even personality. I also suffer from social and generalized anxiety.

Do you struggle with making or keeping friends and perhaps relate to some of what I’ve written here? I would love to hear others’ thoughts on this topic.